A Damp Small Plate Dining Picnic
I’ve never been to Taste London before. I did want to go and see how it worked, but I have to admit I was a little cynical right from the start. Small plate dining from the top London restaurants, served from tents in Regent’s Park? Well for me at least, part of the dining experience is the decor, the ambiance, the service, the china, the cutlery and the wine…and I wasn’t quite sure how that would work in a tent in the rain in the park. Although there are plenty of Michelin restaurants there, you can hardly call it a Michelin dining experience.
So here are the good things that I experienced:- I had bought enough crowns to try two or three small plate dining experiences and I wanted to find some interesting tastes! My first food tasting was scallop ceviche from Bentleys. I’ve been to Bentleys several times, though not recently, and I always enjoyed the food. The ceviche was exquisite. Served in a scallop shell, a tangy mix of raw scallops, lime, coriander, chilli and tomato. It was easy to eat and, probably because it was served in the scallop shell, it wasn’t spoilt (for me) by delivery. I walked to the next door restaurant tent to ‘L’Etranger’ and discovered the first of what proved to be the ubiquitous poshed up burger. I have to say my truffled burger was pretty good. The lady standing next to me remarked on the smell of the truffle and it was served on a little bamboo dish with a bamboo skewer to hold it together so no need for plastic cutlery. Not something you’d necessarily chose from a Michelin star menu, but a lovely mouthful of poshed up streetfood and it worked very well in the setting. Since ‘L’Etranger’ is close to home, I may just pay them a visit.
I can’t remember exactly how many ‘crowns’ I spent on those two dishes, but I remember feeling I had little change for my initial £20 outlay – not enough for a third plate, so I bought some more. Fair enough, but these are the prices for starter size portions after you’ve already paid an entry fee.
I was forewarned by some friends that your ‘time’ was very limited. They had been disappointed the day before to have been literally escorted out of the place 4 hours after they went in…and had found that having sat through a demonstration and tried their small plate dining experiences they didn’t have enough time to see the exhibitors before they were ushered out by security. So I avoided the demonstrations and focused on working round the exhibitors. Having been to the Real Food Show and to Hampton foodies, there were quite a few of the same stands. I’m getting to know the ones I like. And…my cupboard is testimony to my truffle fetish!
Yes, those ARE quail eggs with white truffle…
I was thrilled to find Paul Young’s chocolate stand. Having tasted everything on offer (including some sublime brownies) I felt morally obliged to buy something (ok, I morally excused myself for buying something). Isn’t it pretty! My camera doesn’t really do justice to the ‘summer pudding chocolate’ that I bought.
I still had enough crowns for some more ‘small plate dining’. So, I wandered round a bit wondering what ‘small plate’ to try next. I’ve eaten at Club Gascon, this year’s Taste London winner (with another burger!), and the crowds were a little offputting so I didn’t even try there. I stopped counting when I found the third poshed burger, though I do understand the logic in serving it. I tried to find the Action against Hunger stand, but it must have been tucked away somewhere because I didn’t manage to track it down. In the end, for my last ‘small plate dining’ experience I stopped at Gordon Ramsey’s Maze and tried their smoked salmon dish. It was the least effective of the taster ‘small plate dining’ food I tried that day – served on a paper plate, the salmon was very thickly cut and difficult to eat standing up, with tiny dabs of wasabi and a dressing that I couldn’t taste. Maybe that was my palate…by then I was tired and VERY damp. I went through the taste wine section and thought it was fine, although it was SO cold that tasting red wines was spoilt.
I got a little bored of trying to manoeuvre through the well oiled crowds. Overheard on the way out ‘I’ve had too much too drink and I’m over the limit, but not so much that I can’t drive’ – and then ‘I need the loo. If we don’t find one soon I’m gonna stop and go here’. Gentle reader this was mid afternoon…;)
Now, one thing to remember is that the key sponsors for Taste London are British Airways. Whilst airlines are remarkable for what they achieve, the idea of a Michelin starred in-flight meal is unlikely. So, maybe that’s part of the issue. Perhaps there’s something of a parallel between ‘gourmet dining on a plane’ and ‘gourmet small plate dining in the park’. It was VERY wet and as I wandered round in my festival poncho I did wonder quite why anyone thought it would a good idea to take around 40 of London’s top restaurants and try to get them to serve the best of what they did in the form of small plate dining with paper plates and plastic cutlery in a tent in the rain.
Overall, would I go again? maybe, simply because of the ‘concentrated foodie’ experience. It’s probably more worthwhile if you live out of London and want everything in one place on one day. If you are going to try the restaurant food, well, the entry fee adds a pretty hefty ‘service charge’ to the small plate dining food cost and personally I think I’d rather work my way through my wishlist of London restaurants in their natural setting! If you want to see the exhibitors, a visit to Wholefood, Borough Market and Harvey Nicks will give you about 70% of what you can find at Taste London. Yes, there are some unique things…and I am quite sure the experience is a LOT better on a dry sunny day. But you need to buy your tickets in advance, and sadly, no one can predict the British weather. Maybe for that reason, today at least a lot of the visitors seemed more interested in the cheap cocktails than in the food. A final observation – there were a couple of charities there – Action against Hunger and Comic Relief. Whilst I am sure the organisers like the breakage from visitors NOT being able to use all their crowns on the day, it would have added a lot for me to see ‘donate your spare crowns’ collection boxes around the place and on the way out. I know my friends left with £16 worth of crowns now doing nothing but lining the pockets of the organisers.
So to summarise – for small plate dining 5/10, for a day out, maybe 7/10 when it rains, and I am guessing 8/10 if the sun shines!